They shall eat the flesh [of the Passover offering] on that night, roasted on the fire, with matzos and bitter herbs. Do not eat of it half-done, or cooked or boiled in water; only roasted on the fire.
We experience life as an endless chain of urges and strivings. We desire something, agonize over our lack of it, and expend our energies and resources in pursuit of it. And when our goal is actually attained, our pleasure and satisfaction are short-lived: already the next striving is forming in our hearts, and the fire of desire consumes our lives.
We might, at times, envy the tranquility of those who are free of ambition, but it is the relentless seekers whom we admire and emulate. In our own experience, we look upon our periods of agitated quest as the high points of our lives. For we sense that while the tranquil person is at peace with himself, the striving person is relating to something greater than the self, something more than the here and now.
In this week’s parashah, G‑d communicates to Moshe the laws of the korban Pesach.
On the whole, the Torah is a pragmatic document. The events it describes are almost always physical events, and the mitzvos it commands are, for the most part, physical actions. But the Kabbalists and the Chassidic masters insist that the Torah’s every word also relates to the spiritual dynamics of our lives. Each law of Torah—each organ and limb of its body—has its corresponding element in the soul of Torah.
The same is true of the laws of the Passover offering. In addition to their practical observance, they also address the inner life of our soul. But before we can discuss some of the spiritual applications of the korban Pesach, we need to take a more detailed look at its practical laws.
When the Holy Temple—the Beis HaMikdash—stood in Jerusalem, every Jewish household, or group of smaller households, would bring a lamb or kid to the Temple on the 14th of Nissan, the day preceding the festival of Passover. The lamb would be slaughtered in the Temple courtyard, its blood would be sprinkled on the altar, and certain portions of it would be burned atop the altar. It would then be roasted on a spit over a fire. That night—the first night of Passover—its meat would be eaten with matzah and marror, together constituting the three staples of the Seder. (Today, the meat of the Passover offering is represented at the seder by the afikoman, a piece of matzah eaten at the end of the meal.)
Various types of korbanos were offered in the Beis HaMikdash, but the korban Pesach was unique in many ways, for it was governed by a set of laws that applied to no other korban. Some of these differences are specified in the fifth chapter of Maseches Zevachim (56b), where the Talmud compares the korban Pesach with two other korbanos, the firstborn offering (korban b’chor) and the tithe offering (korban ma‘aser).
The Torah commands the Jew to bring the firstborn of his cattle or sheep as an offering to G‑d. Also to be offered is a tithe of the animals born in the herd or flock (once a year, the year’s yield were herded into a pen and let out one at a time; every tenth animal to emerge was marked and pronounced holy to G‑d, and brought as a korban): “The b’chor, ma‘aser, and Pesach offerings are kodashim kallim; they can be slaughtered anywhere in the Temple courtyard, and their blood requires only one sprinkling, as long as it is directed toward the foundation of the altar. They differ, however, in how they are to be eaten. The korban b’chor is eaten by the kohanim, the korban ma‘aser by anyone; both can be eaten throughout the city [of Jerusalem].
The b’chor and ma‘aser can be eaten for two days and a night (on the day it was offered, on the following night, and on the following day until sunset), while the korban Pesach can be eaten only on the night following its offering, and only until midnight. Another difference is that the b’chor and the ma‘aser can be prepared in any way the eater desires—boiled, stewed, baked, roasted, etc.—while the Pesach has to be roasted on a spit over the fire, and cannot be prepared in any other way (not even as a pot-roast cooked in its own juices with no other liquid added).
All these details—the laws of the b’chor, ma‘aser, and Pesach offerings, and the differences between them—have their counterparts in the inner life of the soul.
First, Last, And Over
The teachings of Kabbalah describe our world as founded upon ten Divine attributes (sefiros) from which derive the spiritual form and substance of reality. Thus, the number ten represents the seder hishtalshelus (literally, the order of evolution)—the spiritual order of things that G‑d instituted in His creation. Firstborn represents chochmah, the first and loftiest phase of the seder hishtalshelus; tithe refers to malchus, the last and lowest of the order (accordingly, the b’chor offering was eaten by the kohanim, who represent the higher, more spiritual callings of life, while the ma‘aser offering was eaten by the farmer who brought it, representing the lowest, or most material, stratum of creation). Together, the first and the tenth embrace the totality of the created reality.
Pesach—Passover—as its name indicates, relates to that which transcends seder hishtalshelus, that which overleaps the standard processes of creation. The korban Pesach is so named in attestation to the fact that G‑d leaped over the homes of the Jewish firstborn when He killed all Egyptian firstborn on the night of the Exodus, despite the fact that, by all standard criteria, the Jews were no more deserving of life than the Egyptians. Pesach is the event of G‑d’s disregarding the very rules by which He ordered His world, and our reciprocation of His deed by rising above the dictates of nature and normalcy in our devotion to Him.
This explains the difference in how the korban Pesach offering is eaten, as opposed to the korbanos b’chor and ma‘aser.
As we noted earlier, life can be viewed as a cycle of striving and realization; of yearning and gratification. The common metaphors for these two states are fire and water. Fire connotes thirst and upward striving; water suggests settling down and satiation.
A normal life—life as defined by the order of evolution from chochmah to malchus—is nourished by both fire and water. Some meals are cooked steeped in the water of contentment; others have lesser degrees of liquid to temper the fire of life; occasionally, one even partakes of a roast—a spurt of utter striving, of desire unsatiated by a single drop of gratification.
The korban Pesach, however, can be experienced only one way—roasted on the fire. When a soul reaches for G‑d—not for the glimmers of Divinity to be found within creation and experienced by conventional spiritual endeavor, but for G‑d Himself, as He transcends existence and reality—it is utterly consumed by an unceasing desire. For man can never capture anything of the Divine essence; he can only strive for it, his soul a pure fire, with nary a drop of water to slake his thirst and not even a pot to contain his fervor.
The korbanos b’chor and ma‘aser were eaten for two days and a night. The korban Pesach was eaten only at night.
In the course of our history, we have experienced days of Divine light, as well as nights of spiritual darkness. Generally speaking, there were two daytime eras—the periods in which the first, and then the second, Beis HaMikdash manifested the Divine presence in our world. Between these two days was a brief night—the 70-year Babylonian galus, when the Beis HaMikdash lay in ruins and the B’nei Yisrael were exiled from the Holy Land. (The First Temple stood for 410 years, 2928–3338 [833–423 BCE]; the Second Temple stood for 420 years, 3408–3829 [353–69 BCE].) Following the sunset of the second day, we were plunged into the blackest of nights—into our current centuries-long galus, rife with suffering and persecution, confounded by doubt and spiritual dissonance and marked by the near-total concealment of the face of G‑d.
A normal relationship with G‑d could be had only on the two days and a night that preceded our present galus. These were times in which G‑d showed Himself to man—even in Babylon we had prophets and other expressions of Divine immanence. But when the sun set on the second day, the flesh of the b’chor and ma‘aser offerings could no longer be eaten: No longer could the Divine truth be experienced within the workings of nature or accessed by the conventional processes of spiritual endeavor. No longer could man experience gratification in his spiritual life, for a glimpse of the Divine had become an elusive dream.
In this night of nights, man’s striving for the Divine is an unquenchable fire and an unrealizable yearning. But for that very reason, it is deeper and truer than the fire-and-water concoctions of the past. In this night of nights, our yearning for G‑d is not focused upon first or tenth attributes or filtered through orders of evolution. In this night of nights, our yearning for G‑d is not mitigated by plateaus of gratification. It passes over all systems and processes to strive for the very essence of G‑d—an endless striving for the most endless of objectives. v
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe; adapted by Yanki Tauber. Courtesy of MeaningfulLife.com via Chabad.org. Find more Torah articles for the whole family at www.chabad.org/parshah.